What do they say about the ABC’s Media Watch? You love it until you’re on it.
Monday night’s Media Watch dedicated its airtime to “personal bloggers” (aka ‘mummy bloggers’) and the ethics of product promotion, political engagement, and opinion.
In an era in which traditional media is fracturing faster than a polar ice cap, it’s important to discuss bloggers whose ability to monetise may outstrip their ability to operate ethically. Does the blogosphere require tighter regulation? Are bloggers sufficiently aware of legal obligations governing their conduct? What role will bloggers play in the future of political and social discourse?
Oh, and let’s not forget the most important one: why are mummy bloggers such big fat frivolous bores?
The latter question was the sub-text festering, like a burgeoning pimple, under the program’s credible surface. It was there in the mocking tone of the voice overs (Media Watch has two voice over styles: serious and worthy for serious and worthy people, and buck-toothed, barely literate for half-wits the program wants to lampoon. Guess which one represented various women bloggers?). It was there in the chosen quotes; taken out of context, the bloggers’ words were left spiritless and deflated. It was there in the way one blogger was chided for gushing over the Prime Minister’s “immaculate hair and nails” after Gillard hosted a ladies-only tea and cake love-in. Or, as host Jonathan Holmes put it, “there was very little of the hard-nosed scepticism you’d encounter if a group of professional journalists was asked to Kirribilli House.”
Why not just say, 'By their very nature, mothers can be trivial and dim-witted – but hey, at least they are honest about it'
Our politicians’ increasing desire to court influential women bloggers led Holmes to infer that the writers may be vulnerable to manipulation by savvy vote-baiting pollies. Fair enough, but interaction between political parties and new media groups is fresh territory for both sides, and they're all still working out the boundaries. And is this really only a concern for ‘mummy bloggers’?
Similarly, points raised about sponsored posts and transparency are just as pertinent to online gaming and tech bloggers, who are also being paid to promote goods and services. It wasn’t particularly clear why mothers who write were under the spotlight – and have been for some time now.
The odd gender focus was irritating, but not half as teeth-clenchingly bad as the program’s wrap-up: “… of course some of the mummy bloggers are naïve and their preoccupations frivolous, but many of these women are direct and honest". Really, Jonathan? Of course? Why not just say, “By their very nature, mothers can be trivial and dim-witted – but hey, at least they are honest about it.”
That final insult and damned-by-faint-praise counterpoint was indicative of a wider held view that mothers who blog are the internet’s bad smell. Bianca Wordley, who writes at bigwordsblog.com, believes that “people assume parenting blogs are ego-driven vacuums. It boils down to a lack of understanding about our community.” In her own post about Media Watch, Wordley railed against the way the term ‘mummy blog’ is referred to in a “b******t ‘this is not a legitimate professional pursuit’ way. There is always a raised eyebrow or a little smirk”.
The sneering is nothing new – I’ve seen plenty of writers belittled for work that’s “no better than a mummy blog post”. In the flurry of tweets that followed the Media Watch broadcast, writer Marieke Hardy moaned about “… being lumped in with those fucking sponsored mummy bloggers”. These comments perpetuate the notion that all mothers’ blogs are commercialised, dull-arsed accounts of how Miss 4 wore a red hat today. Spaces like that do exist, but they’re just one element in a range of voices that can be darkly humorous, perceptive, intellectually engaged, politically aware, socially minded, brave and moving.
Parenthood is a strange experience and talking about its specific idiosyncrasies may alienate those outside it. Before children I had no interest in breastfeeding, paid parental leave or childcare, and I found people who did care a massive yawn. As someone who blogs almost exclusively about motherhood, Andie Fox, from feminist parenting site Blue Milk, believes mothers who blog have the potential to make stronger connections with non-parents: “It would be great to see more mothers politicise their views. Parenting actually crosses of all areas of inequality but it’s not something people rally around.” It’s an interesting point; parenting blogs do discuss a wide range of topics that have broader social and political implications. Maybe we need to be better at framing issues – like childcare access – as something that rightly concerns everybody, not just parents.
If the ABC is patronising towards ‘mummy blogs’, changing perceptions elsewhere is going to be tough. Blogging mothers may benefit from engaging a wider audience and including non-parents in the discussion. That doesn’t invalidate the need for writers who provide an empathetic voice for mums whose baby has embarked on a sadistic sleep deprivation program; as Andie Fox says, “this is a really significant area of writing that was missing, and a really significant area of community building that was missing”.
Dismissive attitudes towards mothers who write about their experiences are unjust and hint at a form of sexism that isn’t widely vocalised. Established and emerging writers who happen to be mothers and who happen to talk about parenting deserve respect and thoughtful consideration – and a serious and worthy voice over, too.
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